Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tribe - Sebastian Junger

Title: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
Author: Sebastian Junger
Publication Date: 5/24/2016
Pages: 192
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I read it for the Pantsuit Politics book club.
Date Completed: 7/9/17

Summary: How is "civilized" society affecting us on an individualized level? Junger looks specifically at veterans and how we are (or are not) set up to welcome them back home. 

What I Thought: This is probably not something I would have picked up on my own. I hate to admit it, but veterans' issues are typically not my area of interest. Don't get me wrong, I greatly respect our troops and am so thankful for the sacrifices they and their families are making. After dating a National Guardsmen in high school and going to his boot camp, I had a glimpse of how tough that life is and knew immediately it wasn't for me. Those people are amazing. However, there are only so many issues in which one can be passionately interested. Veterans issues have been lower on my radar than others. Partially because I think if we solve some of the bigger issues, those solutions will bleed over into the military world. Maybe that's naive, but it's where I've been at. All that to say, I support the troops immensely but have never spent a lot of time reading about or learning about their experiences. I fully admit my own shortcomings there.

So, when my absolute favorite podcast, Pantsuit Politics, announced this as their next book club read, I picked it up with a small amount of trepidation. Small mostly because I'm in for anything Sarah and Beth suggest. Seriously, if you are not listening to them, you should be. The amazing Monica turned me on to them and I have, in turn, hooked at least two or three more listeners. 

The book. You're probably wondering about the book. That's why you come here, after all...

It's a really fascinating read. Not long, either. Junger focuses on community and tribalism. Tribalism in a good sense, that is. He's not talking about the type of tribalism that divides us along party or race or religious lines. Rather, he's focusing on sense of community and how we do and do not support each other. 

He spends a lot of time looking at the history of "civilization" and how we have grown increasingly individualized in our pursuits. We simply don't have the same levels of tribalism that we did in millennia past. He focuses specifically on Native Americans (is that the correct term these days?) and how their culture treats community spirit and veterans so drastically different than we do. Fascinatingly, he remarks that, throughout history, emigration has seemed to trend from "civilization" to the tribal, rather than the other way around as might be expected. 

All of this leads into a conversation about how we are not doing a good job emotionally supporting our returning vets. Junger speaks extensively about the effects of war and conflict on our society. Sadly, rates of depression, suicide, and other indicators of personal distress go down during times of group agony. Junger notes that there were no rampage shootings for two years after 9/11. Something about tragedy brings us closer together and gives us that sense of tribalism. That tribalism gives us purpose and makes us feel a part of something bigger.

Having lived through September 11, I can relate directly to what Junger is saying. Anyone who is old enough to remember that time remembers the intense patriotism and collective spirit which followed. Now, I would make a separate argument for the negative ramifications of that, but it was, weirdly, an uplifting time. At least through the lens Junger is looking. 

This whole concept is really interesting. I think it explains a lot. My faith says that God created us to be in community with Him and with one another. So, it follows that a highly individualized world would be one with more depression and pain. Junger's thesis makes total sense to me, despite the fact that my own introvert bias wants to reject it. This book was a wonderful reminder to me to treasure and nurture the relationships I have in my life. I am so blessed to have them and, I believe, they are keeping me afloat in ways I will never fully understand or appreciate. So, if you're my friend, thank you. Your presence in my life is doing more than you know. I hope mine is doing the same for you. 

Quotes I Loved:

  • "Bluntly put, modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones, and as a result, mental health issues refuse to decline with growing wealth."
  • "Women tend to act heroically within their own moral universe, regardless of whether anyone else knows about it - donating more kidneys to nonrelatives than men do, for example. Men, on the other hand, are far more likely to risk their lives at a moment's notice, and that reaction is particularly strong when others are watching, or when they are part of a group."
  • "To some degree, the sexes are interchangeable - meaning they can easily be substituted for one another - but gender roles aren't. Both are necessary for the healthy functioning of society, and those roles will always be filled, regardless of whether both sexes are available to do it." 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe. Definitely if I ever get more involved in veterans' issues.
If You Liked This, Try: Strangers in Their Own Land / Half the Sky / Radical

A Reduced Review: Junger hypothesizes that our highly individualized culture is damaging us, particularly our vets. 

1 comment:

  1. So glad to hear your thoughts on this book! I too struggle with veterans issues, even though my dad and several other family members are vets. Sounds like a book that might help me understand those family members' experiences a bit better.